On May 17, 10 exemplary St. Louis-area women will be honored at the annual Women of Achievement Luncheon at The Ritz-Carlton. With the help of LN fashion editor Katie Yeadon and photographer Wesley Law, the honorees grace our fashion pages in chic, spring-inspired luncheon wear.
Carol Voss (Community Betterment)
Carol Voss’ passions include the arts, education, social justice, compassion and wellness. “I’m passionate about helping the community be a better place for people to live, to work and to raise a family,” she says. “I really love this community, I was born and raised here, and I believe it is important to give back to the community. I also do volunteer work simply because I like it. I’m always grateful to have the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people who are dedicated to a common good cause.”
Voss is a constant presence in Ladue News’ society pages because of her involvement in a wide variety of nonprofits. She serves as a board member for Arts and Education Council and Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, and has served as co-chair of major fundraisers for Dance St. Louis, Cancer Support Community, Doorways Interfaith AIDS Housing Program and Gateway 180, among others. This fall, she will be honorary co-chair for the Press Club’s Media Person of the Year gala. “It’s one relationship at a time, one organization at a time,” she says. “If it fits my core values, then I try to make time for it.”
Marsha Rusnack (Cultural Enrichment)
Marsha Rusnack’s first experience in volunteer work was as altruism chair of her sorority, where the major project was to collect donations and organize a clothing sale that benefited the community. From there, it was “a natural progression” to all of her later community involvement, which includes serving on the boards of the St. Louis Symphony, Saint Louis Zoo, Missouri Botanical Garden, Saint Louis Art Museum and Dance St. Louis. “All of these arts organizations do so much educational outreach,” she says. “Dance St. Louis has made a tremendous change in so many kids’ lives. The Symphony has an incredible outreach program, and every Sunday, they have an art project for kids at the Art Museum. People don’t know these things!”
Rusnack is quick to say her work is “a small part” of the whole for the organizations she helps. “I’m just thrilled that there are so many staff members in these programs who are so good at what they do. The things I’m involved in, I’ve done because I’ve had the time, I’m interested in doing it and I love meeting these amazing people.”
Sandra Lauschke (Health Concerns)
Sandra Lauschke has volunteered in the Alton, Ill., community for about 30 years—she served on the boards of YWCA, Riverbend Head Start & Family Services Marquette Catholic High School’s for six years each. While in those roles, she took on some big projects: chairing Alton’s first Women of Distinction awards, along with Lewis & Clark Community College’s Collage Gala and the Easter Seals’ ball. What drives her, she says, is her eight children. “It’s important to leave a better place for your children and grandchildren than you found.”
For the past 10 years, that dedication has led her to focus her efforts on Alton Memorial Hospital, where she has served as president of the White Cross Auxiliary, as well as co-chair of a $3.9 million capital campaign for a new wing that opened in March 2010. “I always knew it was going to be beautiful, but when it came to fruition, the building was even prettier than the renderings,” she says.
Carol Staenberg (Spirit of Giving)
Carol Staenberg and her husband, Michael, founded the Staenberg Family Foundation in 2005 as an avenue to channel their charitable giving. The foundation provides funding for College Bound, Contemporary Art Museum, Jewish Community Center, Ready Readers, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Siteman Cancer Center, United Way and more. “We like to give to charities that not only impact us personally, but impact the community as well,” she says. She serves on the boards of College Bound, COCA and Jewish Family & Children’s Service, and headed the task force that helped the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry move into its new building.
“We look at how we can impact the future of St. Louis and make it strong. A lot of them are organizations for children and the arts. We like to set an example for our daughters that it’s important to give back to the community.”
Carolyn Cotta (Youth Dedication-Not Pictured)
In the 40-plus years that Carolyn Cotta has been involved at SouthSide Early Childhood Center (formerly South Side Day Nursery), she’s done everything from making crafts with the children and cutting the grass to chairing the fundraising gala. She originally heard about the daycare while in college, when her Kappa Delta sorority chapter chose it as the local philanthropy project. She says the need she saw there kept her coming back. “I grew up very poor and I had just wonderful mentors taking care of me and helping me along the way,” she says.
Having organized the gala for 15 years and a bingo fundraiser for eight years before that, Cotta still serves as the sorority’s alumna liaison to the nonprofit, and is on the Center’s board. After raising five children of her own, she believes in the value of a good education more than ever. “To see the dedication of the teachers coming in with a smile on their face 52 weeks out of the year and the way they treated the children was really—and still is—an inspiration to me.”
Barbara Shuman (Community Service)
As the co-director and co-producer of the documentary, The Stem Cell Divide, which covers the debate in Missouri on the stem cell research issue, Barbara Shuman and her partners worked to create a film that was balanced. “We’re there to shine a light on issues that may be divisive, but show them in a truthful way that enlightens people,” she says. A marketing professional, she says she balances her professional life with her nonprofit work. “When I try to cut down, I miss it so much, I feel like something’s missing.”
Shuman also is a community producer for Nine Network, is involved at Metro Theater Company, and serves on the board of directors for Summit Leadership Initiative and The Press Club. She also collaborated on a play that was presented at the Missouri History Museum for the centennial celebration of the 1904 World’s Fair. Meanwhile, she uses her marketing skills to perform advocacy work for the Lupus Foundation of America, Heartland Chapter. “I’ve had lupus since I was 18, and I know how lonely and scary it can be,” she says. “Reaching out to people who are newly diagnosed is always rewarding for me.”
Kimberly Ritter (Human Welfare)
Sometimes an everyday encounter can change the course of your life. That’s what happened to Kimberly Ritter, a senior account manager at Nix Conference & Meeting Management. When the Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph asked her to help them choose a hotel that had signed the ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Sex Trafficking) Code of Conduct, Ritter started to research the issue. “As a mother, I realized this was something I couldn’t tolerate,” she says. “I brought it to the owners of the company, who agreed that we had the professional resources to act. We decided as a company we were going to inform hotels globally that sex trafficking occurs in luxury hotels, and every class of hotel.”
Ritter’s dedication led her to become VP of the board of directors for Healing Action Network, which provides help and case management for women who have been trafficked; and also to her work with The Covering House, provides young girls with services like protection, medical treatment and education, while they recover from their experience. “(Preventing human trafficking) has taken my heart, it’s what I do,” she says. “It’s part of my every day.”
Mary Pillsbury Wainwright (Health & Arts)
A lyric soprano, owner of a fine jewelry company and active fundraiser for leukemia research, Mary Pillsbury Wainwright has made an indelible mark on St. Louis. After the death of her husband, Ed Heitz, she founded the Ed Heitz Memorial Research fund to seek cures for acute myelogenous leukemia, along with the Diamond Ball, a gala that supported the fund for 25 years. In the legacy of her father and grandfather, she serves on the board for Missouri Baptist Healthcare Foundation, and in 1987 donated the Cancer Center at Missouri Baptist Medical Center.
A patron of the arts, Pillsbury serves on the Sheldon Concert Hall board of directors and is a founding member and VP of the Executive Advisory Council for the Friends of Music at Washington University. She also donated the harp that sits at the base of the grand staircase in the Governor’s Mansion, along with new Steinway pianos for Sheldon Concert Hall and Washington University. “My philosophy is to do whatever needs to be done and to help people,” she says. “Everything I’ve done has been in honor of my late husband and my parents.”
Thelma Steward (Social Responsibility)
A supporter of Variety the Children’s Charity for more than 10 years, Thelma Steward also is being honored as the nonprofit’s Woman of the Year. She and her husband, David, focus their charitable giving on children, families and the arts. “At my first Variety meeting, I went away thinking, I’m sold!” she says. “I knew it was the place I really needed to be to make a difference in someone’s life—especially a child’s life, because they’re so precious, and it’s up to us. I feel like all of them are my children.”
Community involvement is a whole-family activity, Steward says. Other nonprofits the Stewards are active in include Epworth Children and Family Services, Boy Scouts of America, Girls Inc., the United Way, St. Louis Arc and Grace Hill. The greatest joy, she says, is seeing the depth of influence early intervention can have on a child’s life. “If you can give something that can change the quality of their life, why wouldn’t you?” she says. “My real thanks is when I see them smile, see them get something that will help them, or when I get a hug from them or their parents. That is my real gift.”
Lisa Zarin (Youth Advocate)
When her son was preparing to choose a college, Lisa Zarin remembers feeling fortunate that he had the help of amazing advisors at John Burroughs School. But then she started to wonder about the children in less fortunate neighborhoods like the one where she had grown up. “I researched the data of kids going into college and succeeding,” she says. “We talk about choice and opportunity, but if you look across the board, the ZIP code where you’re born virtually determines where you end up in life.”
This led her to found College Bound, where she continues to serve as CEO. This year, the first group of students helped by the organization will graduate from college, and Zarin couldn’t be prouder. She recalls a thank-you note she recently received from one of the students. “By the statistics he would have been a high school dropout and ended up in jail, but he’s graduating from college and going into a field where he can really impact other lives,” Zarin says.
Zarin also was a founding board member of Meds & Food for Kids, and is a patient advocate for the SPORE (Specialized Program for Research Excellence) Grant for Endometrial Cancer, benefitting research at Siteman Cancer Center.